Do you feel lonely? Most people do every now and then. However, a February 2021report from Making Caring Common revealed that 36 percent of all Americans feel serious loneliness. When you feel lonely every day it can have serious health consequences which may be surprising. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that loneliness is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide and may be as damaging for life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Even before waves of shutdowns due to COVID-19, the United States was experiencing a loneliness epidemic but after two years of social isolation and worrying if socialization is going to get you or others sick it has taken a toll on us as a society.
The Global Effect of Hearing Loss
This and every May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) a national campaign led by ASHA (American Speech-language-Hearing Institute) to raise awareness around hearing loss and it’s far-reaching associated health risks. Currently 466 million people worldwide are affected by hearing loss and the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by 2050 this number could double to 900 million! With education, ASHA hopes that that a global movement towards hearing health will slow a projected rise. The theme for BHSM of 2022 “Connecting People”, and after two years of navigating a pandemic, it’s couldn’t come at a better time.
Hearing Loss and Loneliness
Hearing loss often comes on slowly over many years, so subtly that its common to not even know you are suffering from it. However, this does not mean that many devastating effects are already developing. At the start of hearing loss certain sounds are unable to reach the brain from the ears, leaving gaps in words. This makes conversing with the people in your life difficult. From professional relationships to your romantic relationships, hearing loss makes it hard to connect to the people in your life, leaving in it’s place loneliness and isolation.
One frequently cited Dutch study found that for each decibel decrease in hearing perception an increase in the odds of developing severe loneliness rose by 7 percent.
Differentiating Loneliness and Social Isolation
Hearing loss is a known factor which increases the risk of social isolation and loneliness. It’s easy to group social isolation and loneliness together however the two are distinct from each other.
Social isolation: This occurs when someone doesn’t have a lot of social contacts, such as family, partnerships, or community. Social isolation is quantifiable because it is based on the number of people you come in contact with daily or weekly.
Loneliness: While social isolation is based on your contacts, loneliness is a feeling. You can feel lonely while still being around loved ones. You can feel lonely in a crowd. While different people require different levels of socialization, if you are feeling lonely then you may be craving more connection from the people in your life. It’s common for social circles to shrink as we age, due to health and mobility issues. However, for those with a hearing loss, the risk for social isolation and even loneliness in their relationships becomes noticeable higher as it becomes increasingly difficult to connect on a daily basis.
Can Hearing Loss Treatment Address Loneliness?
While most cases of hearing loss are irreversible, they can be treated effectively using hearing aids or cochlear implants, depending on the severity of the loss. These amazing digital devices amplify the sounds we struggle with based on a hearing exam to alleviate the stress of conversing daily. We will be able to hear the people in our life with enhanced ease allowing us to try new things, go new places and stay engaged in the life we love.
Courtney Voelker, MD, PhD is a board-certified neurologist and director of the Adult & Pediatric Cochlear Implant Program at Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center explains that she often sees many of her patients, prior to hearing loss treatment, arrive feeling depressed and withdrawn.
However, after “being fit with hearing aids or undergoing a surgical cochlear implant, these same patients return with a smile and their family reporting that they are a changed person,” Dr. Voelker says. “This is very rewarding to me as a neurotology surgeon.” This May, why not take advantage of BHSM and schedule an appointment with us today? We look forward to helping you hear at your best!